ISA show celebrates community, culture

West Hall auditorium was decked in streamers and bright string lights on Saturday, November 9, as the Indian Student Association hosted its annual Diwali Show. Also known as “Deepavali,” Diwali is a five-day Hindu festival that signifies that start of a new year.

Traditionally, the holiday is celebrated by lighting lamps and sparklers, praying, and gathering with friends and family.

The annual Diwali show at RPI serves as a nexus for South Asians studying at the Institute and living in the Capital District to gather as a community and enjoy the holiday together.

Every year, the show features a skit put on by ISA members, with various musical and dance performances placed between scenes.

This year’s performance represented a first, however, in that the entire show carried a single theme; this year it was the movie Slumdog Millionaire, with the actors in the skit recreating (and often poking fun at) some iconic scenes from the movie and each performance tying back to a specific question that Simrin, the hero of the story, had to answer.

According to ISA president Clinton Mathai ’14, building the skit around the specific performances was a priority this year. “We’ve never had that integration before, which really helped with the flow of the show,” he said. “You wouldn’t be confused watching the skit and all of a sudden there would be a random performance.”

Mathai said the choice of Slumdog Millionaire as the theme for the night was important in creating that cohesion. “I originally suggested something like Forrest Gump, where we could tell the story through flashbacks, but an Indian Forrest Gump,” he said, “and everybody looked at me like I was crazy. Then Rahul Nalamasu, our freshman representative, suggested Slumdog Millionaire, and I was sold.” The performance opened with an introduction from MCs Mathai and Nalamasu ’17, who would delight the audience for the rest of the night with banter with each other as well as with audience members. Together, they joked, twerked, and highlighted some of the strongest performances in the show, including those from Akshay Bommireddi ’17 and Maulik Patel ’16, who played two policemen interrogating Simrin.

After the opening scene of the skit, the show cut to a performance from Gajjde Sher, a dance team at RPI specializing in Bhangra, a high-energy Indian dance style from the state of Punjab.

Gajjde Sher has performed well at competitions across the nation and especially well in this state, and they were on fire that night, drawing multiple cheers from the audience for their coordination and exuberance. From there, the show continued with scenes from the skit leading up to a dance choreographed by former ISA president Hetal Baman ’14, a freshman dance performance led by Nalamasu, a fashion show coordinated by ISA senior adviser Bhavna Patny ’14, and a solo dance by Pooja Mysore ’13, respectively.

The show concluded with dance performances from Nasha, an Indian dance team from SUNY Albany; Eighth Wonder, an Asian dance team at RPI; and an exceptional senior dance performed by Chirag Jain ’14, Manoj Arra ’14, and Rohan Khashalikar ’14, that used everything from fast-paced Bollywood music to a dubstep remix of a popular ballad to create a spot-on mix that could have easily been mistaken as professional.

According to ISA sophomore representative Niyati Desai ’16, the inclusion of Nasha was important in making the performance about the broader community outside of RPI. “Last year we were unable to incorporate UAlbany, Siena, or any other college,” she said, “but I think that people enjoyed seeing the diversity and the mingling of the colleges.” Their performance was a blast to watch, mixing couple dancing and lifts with Bollywood-style solo choreography to create one of the strongest fusion performances all night.

While the show was made to celebrate a quintessentially Hindu holiday, and the majority of the audience was South Asian, everyone organizing the Diwali celebration went out of their way to make it as accessible as possible to those with a limited background in Indian or South Asian culture.

To that end, the Diwali Show was not only an entertaining way to spend a couple hours; it was also pretty awesome way to learn a thing or two about a culture you may not have known much about.

And while Diwali has passed, ISA is planning several events over the next few weeks, including a booth at Union After Dark this Friday.

ISA is just one of many cultural organizations within the Student Union. There are a multitude of student and clubs and organizations that each represent their own niche within the RPI community, and many groups put on shows and fundraisers to share their culture and benefit their community.

Assistant Director of Student Activities and Multicultural Programs John Killings said he’s been to upwards of 50 cultural shows in the past year alone in his capacity as a Student Activities Resource Person. Whenever you have a weekend off, you should check out at least one or two.